Katie Taylor is now standing tall on the shoulders of giants from the past
Pioneering figures bravely led the way before Katie shattered through boxing’s glass ceiling
Katie Taylor is a student of boxing history. Though she will be forever revered for smashing the glass ceiling in women’s boxing, she has never forgotten the sport’s pioneering figures.
Jane Couch, Christy Martin, Deirdre Gogarty, Laila Ali, Christina McMahon, Ann Wolfe, and Lucia Rijker are scarcely household names even in the pugilist community.
Were it not for their willingness to risk everything by defying the status quo Taylor and Amanda Serrano would not be topping the bill in Madison Square Garden this weekend.
On June 30, 1991, Ireland’s first female professional world champion Deirdre Gogarty made her pro debut at an unlicensed show in Limerick.
It wasn’t until March 1998 that England’s Jane Couch, already a world champion, was successful in her claim for sexual discrimination against the British Boxing Board of Control. In a landmark case, she won the right to box professionally in the UK.
The then Irish Amateur Boxing Association hosted the first official female boxing show on Halloween night in 2001 four years after finally sanctioning the introduction of women’s boxing. It featured a 15-year-old Taylor.
Another decade would pass before the International Olympic Committee accepted women’s boxing into the Olympics Games. It was Taylor’s prowess which got the decision over the line.
At least amateur boxing was tightly regulated. But the professional side of the sport was akin to the wild west.
The transition from illegal fights in seedy nightclubs to mainstream was facilitated by one of the most controversial characters in the sport, Don King.
Among the dozens of fighters he managed was American Christy Martin, dubbed the ‘Coalminer’s Daughter’.
In 1996, he gave the unbeaten Martin a slot on the undercard of a world heavyweight title fight between Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
By then Gogarty had emigrated to the US to pursue her dream of becoming a world champion. She linked up with a trainer called Beau ‘Bo’ Williford, based in Lafayette, Louisiana.
“Don King called Bo and asked him did I want to be on the card. I was given ten days’ notice. There was no negotiations about when the fight would be or what I would be paid. My fee was $3,000, then the biggest purse of my career.”
Though she was giving away 11 pounds to Martin, the fight captivated a worldwide audience. Gogarty lost on points though she broke Martin’s nose.
A few weeks later, Martin became the first female fighter to feature on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Couch grew up in the Lancashire port of Fleetwood. She used to tell her single mother that one day she’d be famous.
One night after coming home from working in a factory, she was flicking through the TV channels when she came across a documentary about the Martin-Gogarty fight. “This was the moment I knew I had a future,” she recalled.
Women’s professional boxing was still banned in the UK and her first world title fight against France’s Sandra Geiger was in Copenhagen in 1996. Geiger’s 29 career wins had all been achieved via knockout. But Couch won the IBF world super-lightweight title on points after a gruelling slugfest.
After her expenses had been deducted – she had to pay for her own food – she made £200
Gogarty achieved her lifetime ambition on March 2, 1997. She beat Bonnie Canino in New Orleans to secure the IBF world featherweight title. Couch defeated Andrea DeShong on the same card to retain her title.
It was to have been the biggest pay night of Gogarty’s career. But she never saw a cent of the promised $12,500 purse. “I finally won the world title and the promoter scarpered, so nobody got paid.”
Couch uses more colourful language to describe what happened. “We got f***ed over. Nobody could do anything to get the money. Even Angelo Dundee (Muhammad Ali’s trainer) tried for us as he had a fighter on the card.”
Even as recently as the middle of the last decade women’s pro boxing took place mostly ‘off Broadway’ with a resultant lack of recognition and rules.
In 2016, Monaghan’s McMahon was the victim of a scandalous decision in a WBC super flyweight title fight in Mexico in which multiple rules were broken.
The WBC promised a rematch but when McMahon went public with her grievances the WBC suspended her. The former world kick-boxing champion never got another chance to challenge for a world title.
So, no wonder Taylor will name-check these pioneers in the Big Apple in the next few days. They did the heavy lifting when it was wasn’t profitable to do so.
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